Equality Is on the Ballot: The Gender Gap Becomes a Chasm (Part 2)

The Presidential Horse Race

Though this has been a grueling election year, voters’ candidate preferences have been fairly consistent throughout, and women’s preferences have driven overall attitudes. In nearly every month from January to July, Biden beat Trump because of women’s responses to the question, “If the 2020 presidential election were held today, how would you vote if the candidates were Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden?”

In Fox News polls of registered voters, Biden was ahead before the pandemic hit the U.S. (50 percent to Trump’s 41 percent in January), and he continued to be ahead in mid-July (49 percent to Trump’s 41 percent). Biden’s July lead was a solid 8 points among all voters, though he trailed by 5 points among male voters.

The reason he was still ahead? Biden was ahead by 19 points among women voters. August polls conducted just before the conventions showed Biden always ahead. The gender gap in all these polls remained in the double digits, with Biden winning with women voters. The president has been behind all year because of women’s disdain for him, and their opinion hasn’t changed much over these past turbulent months.

Equality Is on the Ballot: The Gender Gap Becomes a Chasm (Part 2)

The Battleground States

Presidential politics is a numbers game, but not all numbers are equal. Ultimately it is the Electoral College that matters, not the popular vote. (Case in point: Trump lost the 2016 popular vote by 2.9 million votes.)

Typically, each party can count on a certain number of states as safe; the other states—the battleground states—are where the election is decided. The map matters.

Equality Is on the Ballot: The Gender Gap Becomes a Chasm (Part 2)
The U.S. electoral college. (Wikimedia Commons)

Over the course of this year, that electoral map has been upended, and the women’s vote has been central to that process. States that were leaning Democratic earlier this year, such as Colorado, are now considered “likely Democratic.”

Many states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, that were seen as battlegrounds in January are now leaning toward Biden, and states such as Texas that seemed relatively comfortable for Trump are now very much in play.

Fox’s July polling in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota concluded that “Biden benefits from strong support among women, non-white voters and those living in suburban areas, while Trump suffers from  a lackluster performance among men and White voters.”

Equality Is on the Ballot: The Gender Gap Becomes a Chasm (Part 2)

Michigan, for example, was originally thought to be a difficult win for Biden (it went for Trump in 2016). The Fox poll in mid-July showed him with a healthy 9-point lead there (49 percent to Trump’s 40 percent), with many more voters trusting Biden on race relations (by 18 points) and the pandemic (by 19 points).

Michigan, however, was a dead heat among men (45 percent support for each candidate). All of Biden’s lead was due to women (53 percent Biden, 35 percent Trump).

Pennsylvania went for Trump in 2016 and was regarded as a battleground state earlier this year, but Biden’s lead in July was a relatively safe 11 points, including a 9-point gender gap. Minnesota, which Hillary Clinton won by less than 2 points in 2016, revealed a 13-point lead for Biden, all of which is due to a 14-point gender gap (Trump actually led among Minnesota men, 47 to 43 percent). In every battleground state where one candidate is ahead, women’s votes determine the leader.   

Equality Is on the Ballot: The Gender Gap Becomes a Chasm (Part 2)

In July, Joe Biden was leading Donald Trump in the polls by 19 points among women voters.

In 2016, women cast 9.8 million more votes than men, according to the U.S. Census. And the Pew Research Center’s report on the 2018 elections, also based on census data, showed that 55 percent of women reported voting compared to 51.8 percent of men. Moreover, women represented 53 percent of all registered voters. The bottom line is that more women are eligible to vote and are voting in higher proportions than men.

Equality Is on the Ballot: The Gender Gap Becomes a Chasm (Part 2)

Today, while Trump and Biden are competing aggressively for traditional swing states (such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida), a recent New York Times/Siena College poll suggests Biden is competitive against incumbent Trump even in historically Republican parts of the South and Midwest, like Iowa, Georgia and Texas.

If women’s views today are roughly the same in November and there remains a significant gender gap, it appears they will elect the next president of the United States.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Ms.

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Ethel Klein is an author, pollster and campaign strategist. Formerly, she was a professor of political science at Harvard University and Columbia University. Klein is the founder of EDK Associates, a public opinion research firm.